HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - A church service plummeted into chaos in Huntsville when a gunman stormed in and started yelling threats.
It was a horrifying ordeal for the congregation as many churchgoers tried to take cover.
It happened on Sunday around 4 p.m. at Joy Cometh Ministries on Kildare Street on the city's north side.
The church was filled with children and other church members for their Black History program, but things took a very frightening turn when a man with a gun ruined everything.
"We were well into the service when he came in. That's when all of the yelling and screaming began," said pastor Ava Farr. "It was very frightening. He just walked right in the front door."
When church members realized what was happening, everyone started panicked. They said gunman yelled, "Get back out of my way before I kill all of you."
"A man came into the church and pulled out a gun. He was looking for a family member, as I understand it. All we heard was 'Gun!' and everything went haywire," the pastor said. "The children were screaming. People were climbing over each other, falling over one another, trying to get to safety. In the wake of what happened in Florida, you can imagine it was very frightening. We began to pray."
Brave church members were able to get him outside and others rushed to lock the door as the police were called.
"He was approached by one of our male congregants who was able to stop him from wielding the gun. But he did pull the gun out and the gun fell. He was able to retrieve the gun again but by then, everything was chaos," Farr said. "They were able to get him out of the church so that we could block the door and barricade the door. We were trying to keep order in here and get everyone calm in here."
Many feared that the man would become so irate outside the building, that he would start shooting.
"It was a very harrowing experience because we didn't know if he was going to come back in or shoot the church up," Farr said." He tried to come back in, however, the doors were barricaded. There were people outside trying to speak with him. As the police and sirens were coming, he drove away."
Church members identified the suspect as Donald Gean Robinson, 44. Jail records show he was arrested Sunday night by Huntsville police and charged with making a terrorist threat and possession of a pistol by a violent felon.
"We did make an arrest and this incident stemmed from a child custody issue," said Sgt. Jonathan Ware with the Huntsville Police Department. "He wasn't picked up on the scene but he was taken into custody a short time later."
Robinson is also listed as a homeless convicted sex offender by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. He was convicted of rape in Madison County in 1994. The victim was a 13-year-old female.
Robinson is not a member of the church, according to the pastor.
Church leaders at Joy Cometh Ministries met on Monday to discuss new security strategies.
"There are church security classes which we are going to pay for several of our congregants to go to. There are certain safety and security measures that we're putting into place. We're going to put new security doors on the church. The lesson is, churches need manpower and people specifically designed to look out for the safety and security of the congregants in the parking lots and even before they're able to enter the building," Farr said.
The church is grateful that in the end, no gunshots were fired, and no one was hurt during the scary incident.
"It could have gone another way. We thank God that his protective angels were and no one was hurt. The children were shaken up, we were all shaken up but we give God all the glory and praise," the pastor added.
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